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Iraq, justice, and a tale from the Peloponnesian War

[JURIST] Columbia law professor Michael Dorf offers his take on the question "Is the war on Iraq lawful?" in Wednesday's edition of Findlaw's Writ. Dorf concludes with a telling tale from ancient history:

In Chapter Seventeen of his History of the Peloponnesian War (between Athens and Sparta in the Fifth Century BC), Thucydides recounted the reaction of the people of the small neutral island state of Melos to the invading Athenian navy. Before attacking Melos, the Athenians gave the Melians an opportunity to surrender. The Melians attempted to persuade the Athenians to leave them alone. According to Thucydides, the Athenians would have none of it. Questions of justice arise only among equals, the Athenians said, while the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.

The Melians refused to surrender; the Athenians prevailed militarily; they killed the adult Melian males; and they sold the women and children into slavery. But ultimately with aid from Persia (modern-day Iran), Sparta defeated and conquered Athens, which never regained its glory.

Even as we hope that President Bush can bring the spirit of Athenian democracy to the cradle of civilization, we may fear that he has forged a different, and darker, connection to ancient Athens.
Read Dorf's complete op-ed.

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